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CEO's desk - May-22

12 May 2022

Alan Murray provides an overview of the recent BSIF whitepaper that reflects on the Covid PPE crisis and outlines what actions are needed to ensure these mistakes are not made again.

IT IS now over two years since the Covid PPE crisis engulfed the country and despite media headlines, shock stories on sourcing processes and product quality, we are yet to see the promised formal government inquiry. While perhaps this is not surprising, given current world events and the controversies surrounding certain behaviours during lockdown, it is imperative that we do not move on without learning the lessons from that time.

The safety industry is very well aware of what happened during that period, with non-compliant, often unsafe product flooding the market, but to ensure the circumstances and the impacts do not become lost in time, BSIF have published a white paper, “Pandemic Reflections, A review following the PPE crisis of 2020”. The paper, as the title suggests, reflects on the circumstances of the period but more importantly details what we believe should be done to ensure that users of PPE and safety equipment get the product quality that they deserve. The full document can be downloaded athttps://www.bsif.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2022/04/Pandemic-response-article.pdf

The events of the pandemic elevated PPE in the consciousness of the public and the media but we encounter similar problems every day in the general safety market. 

PPE is critical to wearer safety and of course the product ranges go far wider than the very narrow range of Covid related PPE. So we insist that the PPE Regulation 2016/425 is enforced and users kept safe and have their long term health protected. 

The chance of achieving more public resource and a transformation in the approach by the enforcement authorities seems unlikely to happen, but we believe that some simple actions will produce disproportionately strong results in the battle against unsafe non-compliant PPE being placed on the UK market.

The whitepaper “Pandemic Reflections, A review following the PPE crisis of 2020” includes 5 straightforward requests for action which, without significant increase in cost will deliver substantial improvement. The 5 calls for action are…………

  1. Trading Standards take immediate action in those examples already supplied to them, even if just a meaningful selection. The action should be “prosecution” under the existing PPE Regulation and indeed under consumer law. There are sufficient concerns already reported and lodged with the authorities to enable progress. 

  2. We call for the penalties, while remaining proportionate, to recognise that selling non-compliant PPE is putting wearers in danger and that it is fraudulent. Penalties should follow the example of the 2015 case where action by Hertfordshire Trading Standards against a well- known retailer, found to be selling non-compliant Hi-Viz clothing, resulted in a fine of £15,000 plus a confiscation order of over £42,000 plus costs. Confiscation orders are not normally seen in these types of cases, being more often applied in proceeds of crime recovery, but this confiscation reflected the reality that the products were fraudulently being placed on the market. Penalties under this structure and scale will act as a very powerful disincentive to economic operators ignoring their responsibilities and placing individuals at risk. BSIF will then be able to highlight these cases to the wider market encouraging all to discharge their obligations and ensure that users are kept safe. 

  3. We call on the Office for Product Safety and Standards (OPSS) to recognise that PPE must be removed from the market if it cannot immediately be evidenced that it complies with Regulation 2016/425. As a minimum this must be applied to PPE in Categories II and III which require independent conformity assessment by Approved Bodies scoped for that purpose. 

  4. We call on the legislators to take action on the unethical and immoral practices enabled by the defence of “innocent publication” allowing internet portals and sellers to avoid responsibility for the products that they promote, profit from, and facilitate placing on the UK market. In this call to the legislators we would stress that social media platforms be they Twitter or LinkedIn must be included in any reform, as they are increasingly used as a channel in the sale of PPE. Action in this area by UK legislators would show global leadership and be welcomed far and wide. 

  5. The confusion of responsibility as to which is the relevant enforcement authority must be addressed. Currently HSE are responsible in an “at work/occupational” situation with Trading Standards being responsible when PPE is offered for sale “to the consumer”. Supply chains, where the problem and the solutions lie, do not effectively differentiate between the two different scenarios, so one enforcement agency for all supply routes, as opposed to two enforcement agencies is an essential change. HSE, of course, should remain as the responsible authority for all workplace safety and health practices, including what and how PPE is used. 

Non-compliant PPE will exist in the supply chain prior to its sale for occupational use and the problem should be addressed, in that supply process, prior to it reaching the wearers. Trading Standards have the experience of dealing with traders and in a wide range of supply chains, HSE do not have a history of involvement or natural access to suppliers and therefore it is our contention that Trading Standards must be the primary enforcement authority for PPE.

The BSIF Registered Safety Supplier Scheme provides a quality assurance process for users and we will continue to add resource to the scheme. However, effective control requires enforcement of the legislation. 

Download the whitepaper at https://tinyurl.com/2p94u5ta

Alan Murray is chief executive of BSIF. For more information, visit www.bsif.co.uk